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Calvin began his freshman year at UMass last fall on a lacrosse scholarship.  During the fall semester, he made friends with some fellow freshman on his floor.  One in particular, Derek, introduced Calvin to a group of friends he knew from back home who were upperclassmen living off campus.  Derek told Calvin the guys were an “underground fraternity” and implied they were once a recognized fraternity but were later disbanded by their national charter and lost all official recognition because of alleged alcohol violations and misbehavior.  Derek told Calvin all that stuff was overblown and the national really disbanded them for low membership and the university just wanted to make an example. 

Derek invited Calvin to a party at the house.  Calvin noted it was one of the most run down houses on the block.  The front port steps were loose as he climbed up and the railing was practically falling off.  Once inside the house, Calvin saw Greek letters over the fireplace (he couldn’t remember which ones) and was greeted by a guy wearing a black baseball cap who said “Welcome to Pledge night!” and put a beer in his hand.  Calvin was never asked his age.  Derek helped himself to a beer and told Calvin if the fraternity could get back up to 10 members the national chapter would recognize them again and they’d be legit.  Though he initially had no interest in joining a fraternity, Calvin stayed at Derek’s request so the fraternity could get back up to 10 members.

About an hour and two beers later, the guy who greeted Calvin stood on a couch and announced to the crowd of about eight that it was time for them to “run the gauntlet.”  The group was led from the living room into the dining room area of the home where 6 stations were set up with a person standing behind each.  Calvin believed they were all brothers of the fraternity because they were wearing identical black baseball caps.  Some even wore shirts with the same Greek letters he had seen above the fire place. 

Calvin cannot remember all of the stations but he remembers having to “shot gun” a beer at one station and consume at least 3 shots of whiskey at another.  There may have been a station involving vodka, but he can’t remember.  He remembers all 8 of them participating and being cheered on by the fraternity members.

Calvin completed the gauntlet but immediately began to feel nauseous.  He collapsed down on a couch.  One of the brothers came over to congratulate him on his successful initiation into the fraternity and suggested he go outside and get some air.  After a few minutes, Calvin felt like he was going to be sick and got up to rush outside.  On his way out the door, he tripped over a rug at the door, stumbled out onto the porch, and crashed through the railing onto the ground about 5 feet below.  The way in which he fell, he struck his head on the concrete sidewalk and sustained a concussion.  He also twisted his knee tearing his ACL.  When the railing was examined after his fall, there was evidence of substantial rot and termite damage.

Calvin took a medical leave of absence for the remainder of his freshman year and is back in school now.  Subsequent investigation by police after 911 was called revealed Calvin was at the purported “Gamma Delta Iota” house, a known underground fraternity that had been disbanded for multiple alcohol and nuisance violations.  Calvin just learned from the doctor that due to his knee injury it is advisable he not continue playing lacrosse.  Without the scholarship, Calvin will not be able to afford to continue in school.  He wants to know if he can sue the “fraternity” members for damages associated with his fall.

Consider the following questions:

  • What legal issues are implicated in this situation?
  • What jurisdiction(s) do the issues fall under? Federal, state, municipal, university, multiple?
  • What types of resources would you consult? Statutes/regulations, cases/decisions, policies, codes of conduct?
  • What would be the most useful source to locate these resources?